It was quite dark here in Dayler’s library, yet he had sat so long in this chair that his eyes seemed to have accommodated themselves to the darkness, and it seemed as though he could distinguish every object in the room. Surely, interminably as the minutes dragged themselves out, the quarter-hour that had stood between ten o’clock and the time he had sent the Cadger and Gannet away was up now! His flashlight winked through the blackness, played on the dial of his watch, and the blackness fell again. It still lacked five minutes of the hour.

Strange how his mind worked! There was no speculation as to precisely why she had demanded his presence here, there was only intolerant, angry impatience because she had done so. If it had not been for her, he could have been making vital use of every one of these minutes! There was nothing else to have hindered him! It had been almost childishly easy to pull the wool over Gannet’s and the Cadger’s eyes. He had let the Cadger and Gannet take all the initiative—apparently. The two men had forced the basement door, and then, going upstairs, had opened the front door for him, which he, strolling down the street a few minutes later, had entered as casually as he had already done before on two occasions that night. After that, the three of them, clustered around the mantel, the Cadger manipulating the dial of the safe while Gannet held the flashlight, had made the discovery in common that the safe had been already looted. He had joined in the dismay, chagrin and fury of his companions; he had joined in the frantic search of desks and drawers, which he had inaugurated, and which he had permitted to endure for a full half hour. At the expiration of that time he had coded a terse cipher report, and had handed it to the Cadger and Gannet for delivery. They were to leave the house, himself last, a few minutes apart in order to avoid arousing any attention; and the Cadger and Gannet, obediently and unsuspiciously, had gone. And he had remained!

It had been very simple. And there remained no trace of the search that had been made. His eyes now, so strangely accustomed to the darkness, reassured him on that score. He had warned the men not to leave any traces behind them!

He stirred uneasily in his chair. All this had been essential, necessary, vital, in order to preserve his rôle of the Rat from suspicion, and himself from subsequent and quick disaster at the hands of the underworld; but the minutes that were slipping away from him now, as he sat here impotent, were priceless. Red Vallon and the Pippin at any moment might run the Man with the Crutch to earth, and his hands were tied. He had no concern with the effect that the loss of the envelope might have had on this Dayler; he was utterly indifferent to either the contents of that envelope, or Dayler’s connection with it. It seemed to plumb the very depths of irony that she appeared to labor under the impression she might somehow, in this way, arouse his better nature and touch some softer human chord within him! He was concerned more with the connection between that envelope and the Man with the Crutch; and very much more with the contents of that handbag the Man with the Crutch had carried away from Peters’ flat the night before; and still more again with the Man with the Crutch himself! The man had tricked him here tonight, slipped through his fingers this time, but——

The front door was being opened. Billy Kane stood up, shrugging his shoulders. He was in a truculent mood now, impatient to be gone, prompted even now to go, restrained only by the cooler counsel of common sense. She had the whip-hand over him. A word from her, and he would be in exactly the same case as if he had failed in the play he had just made with the Cadger and Gannet. Voices reached him; hers, quiet and controlled; a man’s, gruff, irritated, sharply antagonistic.

And then the door from the hall opened, and the lights in the library went on. Billy Kane’s eyes, passing swiftly over the trim little figure in black across the room, met and held those of a man who, startled now, stepped hastily back, only to discover that his companion had quietly and swiftly closed the door behind them.

The man’s lips were suddenly compressed and hard, though the color had ebbed a little from his face.

“Please sit down over there at the table, Mr. Dayler,” she requested softly.

“No!” exclaimed the man angrily. “I’ll do nothing of the kind! What’s the meaning of this? You inveigled me back here by hinting at some kind of story, and you run me, in my own house, into the presence of a thug!”

She shook her head.

“It is true that I asked this—gentleman”—she hesitated over the choice of the word, while her eyes in a sort of mocking humor inventoried Billy Kane’s none too reputable appearance and attire—“to come here; but it is equally true that I have ‘some kind of a story’ that I think will interest you. Bundy, you might try and persuade Mr. Dayler to sit down!”

A grim smile came to Billy Kane’s lips. He was a pawn too, like this Dayler; a pawn to be moved about at will by this outrageously courageous, imperturbable, and, yes, in spite of his own irritation, adorable little personage. He turned his attention now to Dayler. The other could have been no more than forty-five, yet his hair was not merely prematurely gray, it was white, as a very old man’s is white; his face, clean shaven, was kindly, though drawn now in tense lines about the lips and forehead.

“Sit down!” Billy Kane ordered curtly. He was fingering his automatic, playing up to the cue she had given him.

Dayler hesitated; and then abruptly stepped forward and flung himself into a chair at the table, his back to the mantel.

“Well?” he challenged. “You got me out of my club on the pretext of having something to say about a man named Keats whom I once knew; but from the look of things it appears to be much more likely that, with my own house affording you protection, I am to be coolly robbed of my watch, money, and such other valuables as you may be able to lay your hands on!”

The slim little figure had slipped gracefully into a chair, facing Dayler on the opposite side of the table. She smiled curiously.

“But, at least, I will keep my promise first, and tell you about this Keats,” she said. “Buck Keats, wasn’t it, Mr. Dayler? And, as your servants may be back in another half hour or so, we won’t waste any time in getting to the story. It goes back about twenty years. At that time you were in the Yukon, and pretty well away from civilization, and you had been prospecting all summer with your partner, a man quite a little older than you were, a man named Laynton, Joe Laynton—Square Joe, they called him in that country, and you ought to know why. He was a big man—in his body and in his soul—a God’s nobleman, wasn’t he, Mr. Dayler?”

Dayler was leaning forward, staring at her in a strange, puzzled way.

“How do you know all this?” he demanded sharply.

She shook her head again.

“I may not be quite accurate in the little details,” she went on. “You will overlook that. You and Laynton delayed your return to Dawson too long that fall. You were caught in bad weather. Your provisions ran low. Laynton met with a nasty accident with an axe. In reaching up above his head to cut some branches for fuel, the axe in some way glanced off and inflicted a very serious and a very ugly wound in his shoulder and chest. Things went from bad to worse. For days Laynton could do nothing but lie in his blood-soaked bunk. Provisions ran still lower. The winter was settling down hard. You had already delayed too long, and now Laynton couldn’t go. And yet you woke up one morning to find his bunk empty.”

She paused. Billy Kane’s eyes, as he stood beside the table, passed from one to the other. Her small gloved hand, resting on the arm of her chair, had closed tightly; and into Dayler’s face, grown haggard now, had come the look of a dumb beast in hurt.

“On a sheet of paper on the table”—her voice was lower now—“Laynton had left a message for you, the kind a brave man would leave, explaining it all, and bidding you take the one chance you had and go without him. And piled on the table beside the sheet of paper was his money, quite a few hundred dollars. You went to the door of the shack, and you followed the tracks in the snow. And you found him, and you found his revolver beside him. You were already weak and half delirious yourself for lack of food, and I think this crazed you and unhinged your mind. You buried him in the snow, and picked up the revolver and put it in your pocket. You took the paper and the money and what food there was, and you ran, like the madman you then were, away from the shack. I do not know how long you wandered, nor how you existed, nor the number of miles you put between yourself and the man who had given his life for you; but eventually you were found by a trapper, and the trapper’s name was Keats, Buck Keats, a man with a very unsavory record. You spent some time with Keats. You recovered your physical health, but your mind remained affected. What had taken place was temporarily a blank to you. Keats robbed you of Laynton’s money and most of your own, and he stole that paper which later on was to mean so much to you. He preferred, if anything were ever known, that you, and not he, should be credited with having stolen Laynton’s money, and he further helped out that suggestion by getting you, after some months, out of the country, by having you, in a word, disappear. I imagine you were like a child in his hands. I am sure you do not even know how you got there, but the spring found you, quite normal in all respects save a broken memory, working at anything you could get to do in Mexico, and living there under the name of Dayler. Your proper name is Forbes, John Forbes, isn’t it?”

Dayler’s head was forward on the table, and buried in his hands. And Billy Kane, meeting her glance, read through a sudden mist in the brown eyes, a bitter condemnation of himself that he did not quite fully understand. He was not the Rat, was he? He was only playing the Rat in a fight for his life, and to win back a name of his own! How should he understand!

“I am taking too long,” she said hurriedly. “Your awakening came then. You read in a paper of the discovery of a brutal and revolting crime in the Yukon—the murder of Joe Laynton. The snow had melted, and a trooper of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police had found the body. If ever there was a prima facie case of murder it was there: The axe wound, presupposing a quarrel, the blood-soaked bunk, the final wound from a revolver shot, the absence of any weapon left in the possession of the dead man, the fact that he had apparently been stripped of his money, and, most damning of all, that you had disappeared. It all came back to you in a flash then; and, like the last straw, adding to this array of evidence already against you, you realized that you were now living under an assumed name. The letter, written and signed by Laynton, that would have saved you, was gone. You naturally did not know that it had been stolen from you; you believed that you had lost it. It would take a very brave man, and a man that was very sure of himself indeed, to judge you for what you did then. Without that paper, you, an innocent man, were already as good as hanged if you gave yourself up. You continued to live on as Dayler. Twenty years went by. You prospered. You lived in all quarters of the globe. No breath of suspicion ever associated John Dayler with John Forbes. But you knew, because you knew the record of the Royal Northwest Mounted, that the Men Who Never Sleep had not forgotten the case, nor given over the search—and that they never would. But at last, with the long lapse of years, you felt yourself secure; and finally, a few years ago, you came here and settled in New York.”

Dayler’s head came up. He passed his hand across his eyes.

“How do you know all these things?” he asked again.

“Does it matter?” she answered. “They are true, aren’t they?”

“Yes, they are true.” His voice was scarcely audible.

“It was Keats who found you, not the Royal Northwest Mounted,” she continued. “Keats had long ago left the Yukon, and had settled in Chicago—a drunkard. He was an old man now, and down and out, living from hand to mouth. I do not know how he found you; I only know that after all these years he decided to make restitution, though counting no doubt on you giving him some money in return for the letter. However, be that as it may, two days ago a man brought you a sealed envelope, which he said a man named Keats, who had just died in Chicago, had confessed, as he was dying, to have stolen from you, and that Keats, as a last request, had asked that it be given back to you. You opened the envelope, and found that it contained Laynton’s letter. With this in your possession at last you were absolutely secure, even in the very improbable event of anything ever being done by the police. Why then, after twenty years, should you voluntarily open the case and disrupt the associations you had formed, and your life as you had molded it in all that time? In any event, you would consider long and carefully before taking so vital and momentous a step. I do not know what your final decision was, or even if you have come to one yet; but, pending such a decision, you—” She motioned suddenly across the table. “But first, will you please open the table drawer in front of you, Mr. Dayler.”

He obeyed her, a sort of slow wonder in his movements. The drawer, open, disclosed, among other supplies of stationery, a pile of long, manila envelopes.

She motioned again—this time to the envelopes.

“You sealed the letter up again, in one of those envelopes and put it away. And that brings us to to-night. I would like to have you show that letter to”—she indicated Billy Kane with a curt nod of her head—“this man here.”

For an instant Dayler did not move, then he stiffened back in his chair, his eyes narrowed.

“I begin to see!” His jaws snapped hard together. “So that’s what you are after! You propose to steal that paper from me, and then blackmail me with it afterwards. It is the letter that you want!”

“And perhaps you will get it for us?” she suggested softly.

There was a grim sort of finality in Dayler’s short, unpleasant laugh.

No!” he said.

“Well then”—she still spoke softly—“suppose I were to tell you that the Men Who Never Sleep have been advised that Dayler and John Forbes are one, and that they are travelling down from the Canadian West now, and that to-morrow you will be arrested—and that the letter is already gone.

“Gone!” It came in a startled cry. Dayler half rose from his chair, but dropped back again quite coolly, a sarcastic smile suddenly on his lips. “Clever!” he said ironically. “Quite a pretty little ruse to get me to indicate the whereabouts of that paper! Perhaps you will try something else now!”

“Bundy”—she turned calmly to Billy Kane—“open the door of that little cupboard on the left of the mantel.”

Billy Kane stepped across the room in a sort of mechanical obedience, and opened the leaded glass door—just as Dayler, his self-assurance shaken now, jumped from his chair, and rushed to the mantel.

“Perhaps”—her voice came calmly again from the table—“Mr. Dayler prefers to look for himself, after all, Bundy!”

The man seemed to be fighting desperately for a grip upon himself, and again his jaws snapped hard together.

“No!” he cried. “It’s another trick to get the combination of that safe, to get me to open it! Do you think I’m a fool to let that paper go now, even at the cost of my life, after you have so kindly warned me that I am to be arrested to-morrow? You would have done better not to have talked quite so much!”

“Open the safe, Bundy!” she instructed evenly. “Watch him, Mr. Dayler, and satisfy yourself.”

The dial whirled deftly, swiftly, under Billy Kane’s fingers. The steel door swung open.

Gone! My God, it is gone!” Dayler’s cry now was broken, almost inarticulate. His head half buried in the cupboard, he was staring into the empty safe. And then he reeled back to the table, and stood there clawing at its edge, gray to the lips, looking from one to the other.

“I have not quite finished my story,” she said quietly. “It is quite true that Keats is dead; but he did not die two or three days ago, he has been dead well over a month. Nor did he die from natural causes. He was murdered. There is a gigantic Crime Ring in this country, whose headquarters are here in New York, that is as implacable and heinous as it is far-spread and powerful. Keats, far under the influence of liquor in a low dive one night and in maudlin self-admiration at the idea of making restitution to you, became drunkenly confidential, and his ‘confidant,’ as it happened, was an old broken-down yegg of about his own age, too old for active work at his sordid trade, a pensioner, a hanger-on, as it were, of this Crime Ring, who made himself as valuable as he could in any way that he could. He reported the story. Keats was promptly murdered—not so much for the sake of the paper, for that could easily have been taken from him without resorting to murder, but that there should be no Keats, with his change of heart, ready to take the witness stand in your behalf, and therefore render the paper of no value to them at all. The Crime Ring did not, however, act with the same haste as far as you were concerned. That is not their way! They watched you, they became thoroughly conversant, intimately acquainted with you, and your house, and your mode of living. It was necessary that they should do so before the next move could be decided upon. It was essential that you should know that the document was still in existence, and it was equally essential that you should know Keats was dead and would therefore never be able to help you with his testimony. The actual delivery of the document into your hands was the really clever and finished play to make, for it not only accomplished those ends naturally, simply, and without possibility of alarming you, but your temporary possession of the letter would also psychologically enhance its value in your eyes and make the shock of its subsequent loss all the greater—and you all the more generous! But unless they could be sure of recovering it—if for instance you had a safe-deposit vault where you would likely place it—that plan would not do at all, and some other must be devised. They satisfied themselves on that score, however; and the discovery of that wall safe, and, incidentally, its combination, made it as certain as anything is humanly certain that they would know where to find the letter again when they wanted it. And, finally, there was the police, the men of the Royal Northwest Mounted, to be put upon your trail. It was only when you stood facing arrest for murder, and only when that paper was all that stood between you and the hangman’s noose, that it was worth—well, perhaps you will say what it is worth? That is the situation to-night, Mr. Dayler.”

The man was rocking on his feet, still clawing at the edge of the table for support. He seemed to have lost all self-control.

“Blackmail!” he said, through dry, twitching lips.

“And without any come-back!” She shrugged her shoulders. “You are rated at a quarter of a million. What will you give for that paper?”

Dayler did not answer at once. He reached out behind him, felt for the arm of his chair, and sat down heavily. He spoke at last, brushing his hand nervously across his forehead.

“I—I’ll give—ten thousand dollars,” he said hoarsely.

“You do not place a very complimentary value on your life,” she said evenly.

“Twenty.” His hand still nervously brushed at his forehead. “Twenty-five.”

Her laugh rippled through the room. It was low and coolly disdainful, but it seemed to Billy Kane, standing by the mantel, tight-lipped, watching the scene, that it held, too, a queer, underlying, tremulous note.

Dayler wet his lips.


“That paper is the only thing that will save you,” she explained monotonously. “Is money any good to you—unless you live?”

It was Dayler who laughed now, but it was hysterically. His hands would not remain still. He had let his head alone now, and, instead, kept laying his hands on the table in front of him, by turns opening and clenching them, and they left damp prints on the top of the table.

“Fifty—I—I’ll make it fifty thousand dollars,” he whispered.

She shook her head.

“My God!” It was a helpless cry. Dayler stretched out his arms imploringly. “You don’t understand! It’s not easy for me to get even that amount. I’m not worth what you think I am. I—I’ve gone the limit.”

Her voice was still monotonous.

“Are you sure?” she asked.

“Give me—give me time, and—and I might make it a little more.” There was no doubt of the agonized sincerity in the man’s voice. “Perhaps—sixty.”

“No!” she said. She was on her feet now, her voice breaking a little. “I want more than that—what it will perhaps be harder for you to give than sixty thousand dollars. I want your forgiveness for what I have just made you suffer—for this scene here. I had reasons, reasons that I believed justified me.” She glanced at Billy Kane. “I do not think you would understand, and I am afraid you would not see the justification in them even if I tried to explain, and so”—she had drawn the manila envelope from the bodice of her dress, and was holding it out to him—“I can only ask you to forgive me.”

He took the envelope wonderingly, rising slowly to his feet. He was like a man dazed. Stupefaction, incredulity, a mighty relief, mingled their expressions in his face. He turned the envelope over and over; and then, opening it, extracted a folded piece of paper from within. And then for the second time his laugh rang through the room, but now it was a laugh like the laugh of a man that was insane, high-pitched, sustained.

“Go on!” he cried wildly. “Go on with your hellish tricks! What’s next?”

Billy Kane had involuntarily stepped closer to the table. He drew in his breath sharply now, in an amazed, startled way. Dayler was holding a blank piece of paper in his hands!

And she, too, was leaning tensely forward. He glanced at her. She turned her head toward him; and out of a face that was as white as death, her dark eyes burned full of fury and bitter condemnation, as they fixed upon him.

“I see it now!” Her lips were quivering with passion. She steadied her voice with an obvious effort. “I gave you credit for too much! I caught you at your work just a second too late. I thought you were taking an envelope out of the safe, whereas you were attempting to put one in! The one you took out was already in your pocket. You were checkmating your miserable accomplices unquestionably—but it was for your own ends! You were playing the traitor to them and to me at the same time. You meant, with your cold-blooded cunning, to use that paper against Mr. Dayler for your own private gain. You lied to me! It wasn’t an empty safe to which you meant to introduce the Cadger and Gannet; there was a little more finesse, it clouded the issue a little more to put a dummy envelope there. And it was so easy! Just one of those envelopes taken from the drawer there, and a piece of paper slipped inside!” She paused an instant, surveying him with merciless eyes. “I hardly suppose that you would be fool enough not to have already put it in a safer place than your pocket, but if you still have it there—hand it over!

Billy Kane did not move. Somehow he was not paying undivided attention to her. It was the Man with the Crutch who seemed to be standing there in her place, grinning at him—only he could not see the man’s face. And then, with a mental jerk, he pulled himself together. He could not tell her that he had almost caught someone else in the act of stealing the paper, but that the “some one else” had got away. It would sound ridiculous! She would laugh in his face! He could not tell her that, like a thunderbolt falling upon him, there had just come the realization that the Man with the Crutch had stolen the paper after all. He could not explain the Man with the Crutch, Peters’ murder, a hundred other things, so that she would believe him, without telling her that he was Billy Kane. And he could not tell her that he was Billy Kane! The old, hard, ironical, mirthless smile came to his lips. He was—the Rat!

“Maybe you’d like to search me!” he snarled insolently.

She turned to Dayler. The man had sunk into his chair again and was smiling now, but in a horribly apathetic sort of way.

“Mr. Dayler,” she said quietly, “it does not matter in the least if he has got rid of it for the moment. I promise you that paper will be in your possession again by to-morrow morning.” She swung on Billy Kane, and pointed to the door. “I think you heard what I said, Bundy”—her voice was ominously low now, strained with menace—“I will give you until to-morrow morning to produce that paper. The alternative is the electric chair.”

She was still pointing to the door.

He shrugged his shoulders. What was the use! The net was closing tighter about him, tighter than ever before, and the strands now were like some devil’s tentacles that would not let go. He swung on his heel abruptly, and without a word left the room.

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